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Roof and spire collapse as fire engulfs Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris

Last Updated Apr 15, 2019 at 11:57 pm EDT

Flames rise from Notre Dame Cathedral as it burns in Paris, France, on April 15, 2019. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Thibault Camus

French media quoted the Paris fire brigade saying the fire is "potentially linked" to the renovation work.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo says firefighters are working to contain the "terrible fire" at the medieval church.

A massive fire engulfed the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral in the heart of the French capital Monday, toppling its spire and sending thick plumes of smoke high into the blue sky as tourists and Parisians looked on aghast from the streets below.

A French official and the Paris fire chief say they think Notre Dame Cathedral’s landmark rectangular towers have been saved from the fire that caused horrific damage.

Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said late Monday that authorities remain “prudent” but are “much more optimistic” than earlier in the night.

Paris fire commander Jean-Claude Gallet said a major accomplishment of hundreds of firefighters was stopping the flames from spreading to the north tower belfry.

Gallet says two-thirds of Notre Dame’s roofing “has been ravaged.” He says one firefighter was injured.

He says fire crews will keep working overnight to cool down the structure.

The mayor of Paris says people who live near Notre Dame Cathedral had been evacuated in preparation for the burning structure’s possible collapse.

But Mayor Anne Hildago also said the significant collection art work and holy objects kept inside the church has been recovered.

The Paris prosecutors’ office says investigators are treating the blaze that destroyed part of Notre Dame as an accident for now.

The prosecutors’ office said late Monday they have ruled out arson in Monday’s fire, including possible terror-related motives for starting the blaze.

Prosecutors say Paris police will conduct an investigation into “involuntary destruction caused by fire.”

The fire chief in Paris says it’s unclear if city firefighters will be able to keep a fire at Notre-Dame from spreading and causing more destruction.

France’s civil security agency says “all means” except for water-dropping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze.

The defence agency said those were unsuitable for fires like the one at Notre-Dame because dumping water on the building could cause the whole structure to collapse.

Flames shot out of the roof behind the nave of the cathedral, among the most visited landmarks in the world. Sights of the flames stopped passers-by in their tracks along the Seine River that passes beneath the cathedral.

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral and says he is seeking international help to restore the Paris landmark.

Macron said after the French capital’s fire chief announced the emergency response had changed into a monitoring and mop-up operation, “The worst has been avoided although the battle is not yet totally won.”

Macron said a national fundraising campaign to restore Notre Dame would be launched Tuesday and he called on the world’s “greatest talents” to help.

The French leader credited the “courage” and “great professionalism” of firefighters with sparing Notre Dame’s facade and two landmark towers from being destroyed.

French historian Camille Pascal told BFM broadcast channel the fire was destroying “invaluable heritage.”

“It’s been 800 years that the Cathedral watches over Paris,” Pascal said. “Happy and unfortunate events for centuries have been marked by the bells of Notre-Dame.”

He recalled that Notre-Dame bells sounded the death knell following the 2015 Paris attacks.

“We can be only horrified by what we see,” Pascal said.

Associated Press reporters at the scene saw massive plumes of yellow brown smoke filling the air above the Cathedral and ash falling on the island that houses Notre-Dame and marks the centre of Paris.

Siddhu Sudarshan, a Canadian who lives in Paris near the cathedral, called the fire “shocking, unbelievable and surreal.”

Sudarshan said, “For this to happen, it’s was quite shocking, because it’s just something you just wouldn’t expect.”

He described to CityNews what it was like seeing the Notre-Dame on fire. “For the fire to rage out of control for that long and the smoke just kept getting bigger and bigger with more colours. It was an astounding thing to see.”

He adds all he was thinking was, “When is this going to stop and how long is the damage going to keep going on?”

The Vatican has issued a statement about the “terrible fire” that has “devastated” Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The Vatican said: “The Holy See has seen with shock and sadness the news of the terrible fire that has devastated the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, symbol of Christianity in France and in the world.”

The statement says the Vatican is praying for firefighters “and those who are doing everything possible to confront this dramatic situation” on Monday.

It also expressed “our closeness to French Catholics and the population of Paris, and we assure our prayers for firefighters.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted it was “absolutely heartbreaking to see the Notre-Dame Cathedral in flames.”

Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre-Dame is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages as well as one of the most beloved structures in the world. Situated on the Ile de la Cite, an island in the Seine river, the cathedral’s architecture is famous for, among other things, its many gargoyles and its iconic flying buttresses.

Among the most celebrated artworks inside are its three stained-glass rose windows, placed high up on the west, north and south faces of the cathedral. Its priceless treasures also include a Catholic relic, the crown of thorns, which is only occasionally displayed, including on Fridays during Lent.

The cathedral was immortalized in Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame,” published in 1831, and has long been a subject of fascination in popular culture as well as the traditional art world.